The Myths about Wheat

The ‘convention’ is that wheat, and whole grains, should be a major part of our diet and that a small fraction of people, one in three thousand, are intolerant to a protein in wheat called gluten (coeliac disease).

Every part of this sentence is wrong and I’d like to explain why. Firstly, the wheat you eat today bears little resemblance to the wheat mankind has eaten for thousands of years. Not surprisingly, for reasons that will become clear, many of us do badly on this food, with varying degrees of intolerance.

It is now clear that coeliac disease, which can be fatal, is much more common than thought, and on the increase, and affects something like one in a hundred people. It is vastly under-diagnosed, with the average length of time to diagnosis taking 11 years! The first manifesting symptoms are not uncommonly depression (not all sufferers originally report gut problems) or gastrointestinal cancer, by which time it is often too late. One in ten coeliacs go undiagnosed.

Now the medical journals are finally starting to acknowledge the existence of ‘non-coeliac wheat sensitivity’. Common symptoms include bloating and abdominal weight gain, depression and other forms of mental illness, eczema, asthma, aching joints, headaches, sinus problems, IBS and various digestive problems, carb cravings and chronic fatigue. If you suffer from any of these you need to take the possibility of wheat intolerance seriously.

While many so-called experts have often dismissed these apparent signs of wheat intolerance recent research has found distinct evidence that non-coeliacs with wheat sensitivity actually do have immune reactions to wheat, with increased antibodies against wheat (both IgG and IgA), both in their gut and bloodstream. offer a home test kit for IgG antibody sensitivity and there’s a Coeliac test kit you can buy that measures IgATT, which is the specific antibody, the presence of which means you have coeliac disease.

One very likely reason for this ever growing problem, which I estimate affects between one in ten and one in four people, is that the wheat we eat today, which in some products has a higher glycemic index (GI) than white sugar, bears little resemblance to the wheat mankind has eaten for thousands of years.

The history of wheat

One of the first wheat varieties our ancestors ate, going back to 3300BC, was called ‘einkorn’. It’s in a very simple category of wheat genetically speaking called diploids (having one set or pair of chromosomes from each parent), with a total of only 14 chromosomes. Shortly after it began to be cultivated, it mated, so to speak, with ‘goatgrass’ giving rise to a more complex wheat category called tetratploids (2 sets or pairs of chromosomes from each parent) with a total of 28 chromosomes. In this category we find durum (normally used for pasta) and the ancient grains, known as ‘emmer’ and ‘khorosan’ (Triticum Turgidum) wheat, now sold under the trademark of Kamut. That is what mankind basically ate for the next few thousand years. For example, Einkorn was found in the pharaoh’s tombs while emmer and Khorasan were eaten by ancient civilizations originating in Mesopotamia. The ancient Kamut brand khorasan wheat is the only wheat I like to eat and comes down to us unchanged from ancient times. (The Kamut trademark is a guarantee that this wheat is 99.9% ancient grain and also exclusively grown organically in much the same way it would have been cultivated thousands of years ago.)

At some point tetraploid wheat mated with a grass called Triticum tauschii to form Triticum aestivum, a category of wheat known as hexiploids (3 sets or pairs of chromosomes from each parent) with a total of 42 chromosomes. Examples of wheat known today in this group are spelt, and its close cousin vulgare which is common bread wheat. However, the original bread wheat is fundamentally different to the modern bread wheat you are likely to eat today. The modern wheat has undergone thousands of hybridisations to increase yield (making the wheat plentiful and cheap), and also to increase and change the quality of the gluten content. (The change in this gluten, the sticky protein in wheat that allows baked products to rise when activated with yeast, has made it possible for bread to rise more thereby producing more loaves of bread with the same amount of wheat which is commercially extremely profitable). This explains why today’s wheat has a whole lot of gluten proteins that were never present in original wheat strains. In one hybridisation experiment 14 new gluten proteins were identified. Now imagine what the chemical difference is when today’s wheat has been through thousands of hybridisations? It has been extremely modified or changed for reasons of profit rather than health. This madness is now continuing at a new level as biotech companies strive to create and then introduce strains of GMO wheat that can both be patented and compatible with specific pesticides and chemical treatments. The net result, even before GMO wheat is perfected and introduced, is that the gluten proteins in today’s wheat are substantially different to the gluten proteins as well as other compounds found in the earliest forms of wheat, such as Kamut khorasan.

The two main families of gluten proteins are called ‘gliadins’ and ‘glutenins’. Oats, for example, contain no gliadins and, probably consequently, are a much less allergenic food. A particular form of gliadin, called alpha-gliadin, inflames the intestine, causing abdominal cramps and diarrhoea. Gliadin is particularly tricky because it has a unique ability to get through the intestinal wall. It triggers the release of a protein called zonulin, which literally opens up gaps between the intestinal cells, increasing gastrointestinal permeability. This, in turn, means whole food proteins can cross the gut barrier, triggering the immune system to react, which is the basis for developing food intolerances. Good allergy testing laboratories, such as Yorktest, measure the presence of not only IgG antibodies to a wide variety of foods, which means your system has become sensitised, but also to gliadin itself. If you do test gliadin sensitive it is well worth avoiding wheat for at least three months.

Durum wheat (at least the original form, now itself hybridised beyond recognition) used to make pasta, is also a genetically simpler form of wheat (tetraploid), although I prefer to eat Kamut pasta, which is both delicious, organic and guaranteed to be 99.9% ancient grain and not to be genetically altered in any way.

Pasta has a fraction of the GI or GL of wheat bread, which raises your blood sugar levels, and hence insulin, quite dramatically. The increased insulin and blood sugar levels feed into abdominal weight gain and, ultimately, diabetes.

Wheat messes with your mind and your middle

I have long known that wheat intolerance can ‘cause’ schizophrenia symptoms through working with many diagnosed schizophrenics who had, in some cases, complete relief through wheat avoidance. I remember the case of Liz, a girl I met in her early 20s, who had suffered for years from schizophrenia, dropping out of school, who went on to a get a degree, marry and raise a family, after excluding wheat from her diet.

I had become aware of this through the research of Curtis Dohan, a psychiatrist, who reported relief of schizophrenia symptoms when he removed wheat from the diet. This was published in the British Medical Journal back in the 1970s when I was studying psychology. Wheat can also exacerbate symptoms of ADHD and autism.

This link with mental health problems led to the discovery that modern wheat, in its digestion, generates peptides (combinations of amino acids a bit shorter than a protein) that mimic opiods (heroin and morphine are opiods) called gluteomorphins that occupy the same receptors in the brain as heroin. Gluteomorphins are commonly found in the urine of children diagnosed with autism.

The effect of these gluteomorphins, created when you digest modern wheat, is that you want more. Wheat literally becomes addictive. Combined with the sugar load created by yeast-activated bakery products, and the subsequent blood sugar low, which stimulates appetite, modern wheat is literally an appetite stimulant, making you want to eat more. This is, of course, great news for the food industry and one of the reasons why wheat-eating nations have a big problem with ever-increasing belly fat.

I have had so many clients who have reported massive weight loss, and a cessation of abdominal bloating, by excluding modern wheat. There’s a very good book, Wheat Belly by William Davis, that argues why our modern day obsession with wheat is driving abdominal weight gain.

Wheat promotes inflammation

When you gain abdominal fat, known as visceral fat, it triggers, or is part of the body’s inflammatory response mechanism. This, in turn, makes you both more likely to become intolerant or allergic, and to develop inflammatory symptoms, the classics being headaches, eczema or dermatitis, asthma, irritable bowel diseases such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, rhinitis, arthritis and just about any ‘itis’.

While the general view is that ‘gluten’ is the culprit I am beginning to revise this simplistic opinion due to a series of experiments carried out on Kamut brand khorasan wheat. Technically it does contain gluten proteins and, as such, should promote inflammation. However, it doesn’t. In one rat experiment a series of well conducted studies now published in 3 papers have shown that Kamut brand grain is not only anti-inflammatory but it also has a powerful antioxidant effect. That’s all well and good in lab studies but what happens in real life when humans eat this grain?

Ancient Kamut brand wheat is anti-inflammatory

Last month a randomised double-blind study was published on people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), carried out by researchers at the University of Florence in Italy. The participants were given foods (bread, pasta, biscuits, and crackers) made from either modern wheat or Kamut. They didn’t know what kind of food they were eating and were randomly assigned to eating either modern wheat products or kamut products for six weeks at a time and then after a 6 week wash out period the type of wheat they were eating was switched and they continued to eat the new diet for another 6 weeks. Their symptoms of IBS were meticulously recorded.

During the modern wheat weeks they had no improvement, and continued to suffer from abdominal pain, bloating, tiredness and irregular and unhealthy bowel movements. However, when they were unknowingly eating kamut everything got better. They reported significantly less bloating, abdominal pain, irregularity and tiredness, with a much higher overall measure of quality of life.

Also, convincingly, markers of inflammation known as pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-6, IL-7, INF-gamma, MCP-1, VEGF), which are usually raised in people with IBS, all reduced. This is exactly the opposite of what one would expect with conventional wheat, high in gluten proteins. This effect as seen in blood markers reaffirms the results from study on healthy humans published last year.

I am starting to think that the main problem with wheat is not gluten or gliadin per se, but the fact that we are eating a food that is considerably different genetically and chemically, to that which we may have adapted to eat in reasonable quantities. The solution for ‘wheat intolerant’ people may not always need to be a strict avoidance of wheat and other gluten or gliadin grains, but rather the avoidance of modern wheat.

Gluten is present in wheat, rye, barley and oats, although oats contain no gliadin. Spelt is probably a less adulterated form of modern wheat, but is quite different and genetically much more complex that the original ancient grain, such as kamut. Kamut is also higher in antioxidants and polyphenols, which are generally anti-inflammatory, as well as magnesium, potassium, selenium, iron, zinc and other important minerals. Kamut, unlike spelt, is only grown organically, with no exposure to modern chemicals, in other words in conditions that most closely represent those we may have adapted to over the thousands of years of wheat consumption, from the early days when mankind moved from hunter/gatherer to peasant/farmer.

Kamut wheat, which is fast becoming a fashionable superfood in the US (it is grown primarily in Montana for the US market) and has become well known and popular in Italy is gradually becoming available in the UK.

There’s a growing range of Kamut products available in both health food stores and supermarkets. Go to and select ‘products’, then search by country, to find what’s available in your country.  Also  have Kamut khorosan bread, pasta, bulgur and flour.